101 reasons to honor veterans
I’ve said it before on this ol’ blog. There is no better assignment than those that include military veterans, particularly those from the World War II generation. Yesterday I had the honor to meet an absolute gem. A 101-year-old gem.
I photographed Frank Sisulak at his Riverside home where he still gets along just fine, filing his own bills and making his own meals. At 101, Sisulak is recovering from a bout with the H1N1 virus and can recall narrowly surviving the terrible pandemic flu of 1918. We recollected that he’s also lived through two economic disasters. The attack on Pearl Harbor, and September 11, 2001. He was two months old when the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and he jokes he’s hanging on long enough for them to win it again. It’s hard to imagine all the people he’s come to know and the many moments witnessed.
Frank’s son Tom moved in to help around the house and it’s clear they get along like the best of friends. It’s beautiful. They travel (the two of them took a train from Chicago to Seattle recently), fish, and even workout together. Frank, an Illinois track and field star during his high school days, is attempting to earn the World Record for his age group in the shot put and discus events. A track runner and coach himself, Tom steered his dad to those events after Frank expressed an interest in trying the 100-meter sprint. Wow.
Frank posed for a photograph, wearing a suit and tie of course, in front of his mantle where he displays some of the trophies and medals he earned through the years. At right is a book he put together of his time in the military. It was meticulously constructed and remains in mint condition, detailed with hand written captions and filled with photos he shot using a camera he hid in his bags when he first went overseas.
The newspaper I work for is doing some research to determine if Frank is the oldest living World War II veteran in Illinois, but you can rest assured he’s darn near it if not. Clearly an amazing man, but until you meet him you don’t get the truest sense for how much so. That’s why I’ve always encouraged younger photographers to spend time with these subjects. They don’t ever brag and they don’t care for flattery, but they will tell one heck of a story if you listen. Time is running out on those opportunities and I consider myself extremely lucky to have met quite a few. As we celebrate another Memorial Day, I will be thinking about Frank and the countable other heroes who defended and continue to honor this country with dignity and service.